Laying claim to our city

Laying claim to our city

Greek social media were on fire over the past weekend with photographs and comments from an expansive digital art exhibition organized by the Onassis Foundation at downtown Athens’ Pedion tou Areos park. The large-scale installations that make up the core of the show certainly helped stoke the buzz with their eminently Insta-appeal: from the massive red planet and the artificial moon illuminated by 40 solar-powered batteries to the mirrored techno-temple that emerges from artificial vegetation installed in the park for the occasion.

“Plasmata: Bodies, Dreams and Data” is a phantasmagoric exploration of the present and future of the human condition that begins at the park’s statue of former king Constantine on horseback, stretches through its popular but notoriously dark footpaths on a course running parallel to adjacent Alexandras Avenue and ends above the Alsos Theater. And while the exhibition addresses some very interesting yet rather intellectually weighty notions like the role and scope of artificial intelligence, gender, the digital environment etc, it is so visually attractive and striking (drawing the interest of toddlers and local senior citizens out for a stroll and art aficionados alike) that transcends the narrow confines of art to become a universal experience.

On a broader level, the exhibition has, if only for now, recast Pedion tou Areos as a public space that is important to the city. When people go to the effort to leave the leafy suburbs of Glyfada in the south and Psychico in the north to travel to central Athens for an exhibition they “heard about on Instagram,” then an important seed has been planted. And this seed is about perception.

The Onassis Foundation show has succeeded in boosting what has been a slow yet growing interest in the biggest park in central Athens – and that is definitely a victory.

The same has been the case with Kotzia – the square across Athinas Street from City Hall, between Monastiraki and Omonia squares – where an inflatable model of the “moon” was on display for a few days as part of the Athens Digital Arts Festival. Many Athenians were encouraged by the opportunity to take a photograph in front of the impressive installation by British artist Luke Jerram to cross the threshold of Sofokleous Street, seen as marking the transition from nightlife fun spot to urban squalor.

Art has this incredible power. But is it enough to make sure that we can walk around Omonia Square after dark without fear? Is it enough so that we can enjoy Pedion tou Areos in a carefree way, as it should be? No, it is not. But those who are responsible for these things (from the Ministry for Citizens’ Protection for starters, to the Attica Regional Authority), will find an ever-expanding portion of citizens laying claim to their city and demanding answers as to why the situation is not as it should be.

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